Re: Gypsy history <long> (was: Re: about gypsy)

Gerold Firl (
14 Feb 1995 12:36:31 -0800

In article <> (Jim Bracher) writes:
> Why have the Rom maintained such a seperate ethnic identity in the
>face of a great deal of opposition? They have been killed, severely harrased,
>forced to flee, maltreated in a variety of ways, and those they live among
>have made them very unwelcome in a variety of deliberate ways. This includes
>strong attempts to force them to assimilate to the host cultures. In spite of
>this, the Rom maintain their lifestyle and their culture.

It's an interesting question. One could invoke the anthropic principle, and
turn the question around to say that the reason that the rom still exist as
a distinct culture imbedded within foreign cultures is precisely *because*
they are so cohesive and separatist. As has been mentioned, notions of
purity and pollution loom large in the gypsy worldview. The presumed origin
of the rom as a low-caste hindu group seems consitant with such notions;
however, I know of no remnants of hinduism still practised by the gypsies.

> I would like to know whether the drive for maintaining this social
>identity is motivated internally or whether it's a response to external
>social pressure (which, to me, would seem to motivate against it).

It seems that all peoples show a strong attachment to their milk-culture.
Folk beliefs often endure with remarkable stubbornness, particularly among
isolated, non-urban, non-technological people (see how pc I'm getting -
look ma, no primitive!). Consider the pagan customs of europe, a few of
which still endure today (tannenbaum for example), but which were
documented in remarkable profusion in the 19th century (see frazer for
numerous examples).

Two other contemporary examples: an NPR talk-show on the subject of
inter-racial adoption mentioned the strong opposition of many american
blacks to the idea of white parents adopting black babies. They didn't want
these children growing up outside of black culture. Earlier I spoke of the
ecological metaphor, as it applies to the evolution of culture; individuals
who defend the market-share of their culture act as leucocytes (look how pc
I'm getting - I could have said "white blood cells"!) in the immunological
metaphor of cross-cultural contact. These individuals were aware that it
is difficult to find black families willing to adopt these black babies,
but they still didn't like the idea of a black child growing up outside of
black culture. Such attitudes are obviously useful for maintaining the
strength and numbers of a culture.

A second example is furnished by the president of a society for the deaf;
(I don't have the names - I think this was last year) who stated that he
was *glad* he was deaf - he wouldn't *want* to be able to hear. He
obviously identified strongly with the "culture" of the deaf (they do have
a culture - their own language, customs, legends, etc); to the extent that
he was able to convince himself (or was at least willing to try to convince
himself) of the superiority of his culture over all others. This last trait
seems pretty universal also, with the possible exception of anthropologists
who appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of all cultures, and the recent
crop of cosmopolitan westerners who attempt to break free of ethnocentrism
by self-flagellation.

Disclaimer claims dat de claims claimed in dis are de claims of meself,
me, and me alone, so sue us god. I won't tell Bill & Dave if you won't.
=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=---- Gerold Firl @ ..hplabs!hp-sdd!geroldf